Understanding the Economics of Social Stratification

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The population in a society is not only divided into groups but there is also stratification of the “ high” and the “low” among them. Even in the earliest societies, we find stratification on the basis of caste, creed, age, gender or position of the chief. With the development of civilization and culture, not only does the size of society increases but also the stratification. The whole society gets divided into high-low strata on various grounds. Accordingly, the division of society into high-low strata whose occupants have unequal access to social and economic opportunities is called social stratification.
Social stratification is an arrangement through which social categories and groups in societies are placed as higher or lower to one another in terms of their relative position on the scales of reputation, honours, income, wealth and power (Singh, 1997). It can be natural when the standards place importance upon the attributed or innate qualities with which the strata are relatively gifted and it can be unnatural when they are acquired by the strata through their own achievement. Attribution and achievement are for that reason, two types of scales which usually define the normative principles which work as determining factors of social stratification in all societies. People who are in the high strata have high access to social and economic opportunities or enjoy privileges which are unavailable to those people who are in the low strata and have low access to social and economic opportunities or have many disabilities and obstacles.
Interdependence and universality are two important attributes of social stratification. In the former, different social groups remain connected or interlinked with one another through the interface of superiority and inferiority. That is to say that under social stratification, the various strata are not detached but attached to one another. In the latter, social stratification is treated as the universal phenomenon. Social stratification is found in all societies, whether ancient or modern. The phenomenon is also a historical process which developed as a social institution of societies at a certain level of social growth and development. The societies of the past had micro levels of social differentiation, for example, a top-hunter or food gatherer enjoyed higher status due to his personal abilities or skills which society considered being spiritual or divine in origin.
Production technologies are systems for setting up the manufacturing of goods coupled with management of the stock inventory so as to optimize costs, minimize inventory and bring stability in the workflow. There were less developed production technologies and risky and often drifting nature of these societies which sets the restriction on the growth of population, consequently their social arrangement was quite simple with basic communication skills among people, limited vocabulary, no technical jargons, simple technologies, uncomplicated forms of faith or conviction systems, and simple rules of social control, whether formal or informal. Such societies did not produce any considerable economic surpluses and were incapable of amassing wealth for any member. They accommodated social differentiation without withholding social stratification. The modern production technologies or production technologies of the contemporary times, on the other hand, has the capacity to recognize production obstructions, leakages and any other stumbling blocks and depict capacity cum efficiency constraints.
According to sociologists, social stratification has both a social as well as an economic dimension. It encompasses four main basis- caste system, class system, slavery and estates. It was the class system that was considered the main basis of stratification in industrial societies in general and capitalistic societies in particular. Due to the significant income and wealth gaps between various groups in the society, economic stratification takes place because people have varying degrees of income and wealth. It is wrong to posit economic stratification as economic inequality as it encompasses a wide series of wealth, rather than the presence of different strata. The economic stratification of society into “privileged” and “grassroots” was behind the fall of advanced civilizations such as the Roman and Gupta dynasties (Motesharrei et al., 2014). Stratification economics represents an important modern approach to explain the nature and cause of economic inequality in terms of how social groups are divided or stratified according to relative group status (Davis, 2015).
Intersectionality is a systematic and logical framework which tries to identify how interconnecting systems of power influence those who are most sidelined or downgraded in society (Brittney, 2016). Stratification economics is a multidimensional field to discourse upon the problems that intersectionality generates for the economics of stratification. The emphasis of stratification economics, a budding branch in economics, is economic inequalities at the macro level or group level and the socio-economic strata linked with persons’ responsiveness and identification with social groups, commitment to which is exhibited in irregularities and inequalities between their pro-own-group and anti-other-group performances (Darity, 2009). Individuals are the main protagonists of social groups and their identification with the social groups makes their behaviour to reveal the welfare, wellbeing or interests of those social groups.
In statistics, the sample is the representative of the population. In the same manner, in society, individuals are representatives of social groups which are the actual economic representatives. The inequalities in income, wealth, output, and employment in the society are explained in terms of the struggle between the groups. Social ontology is the enquiry into the nature and belongings of the social world. It examines the various groups and entities in the world that ascend from the social interface. Under stratification economics, the economic inequalities in the society, in general, and the economy, in particular, is explained by means of a social ontology approach in which social stratification is explained by income, wealth and social group interactions and dealings. It employs a socialistic approach rather than an individualistic approach in order to understand social relationships and interactions. By the employment of the socialistic approach to the personal identity, we can resolve social conflicts because it personifies individuals as representatives of the society in general and conflicting social groups in particular. A socially and economically stratified society is morally objectionable and economically unproductive and inefficient. It breaks up generally held moral standards of equality, justice, and respect for persons by spreading inequalities in the society.
Yogendra Singh. (1997). Social Stratification and Social Change in India, New Delhi: Manohar Publishing House.
K.L. Sharma. (1997). Social Stratification in India: Thanes and Issues, New Delhi: Sage Publishers.
Cooper, Brittney. (2016). Intersectionality. Retrieved from http: //www .oxford hand books .com /view /10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199328581.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780199328581-e-20?print=pdf.
David, B.J. (2015). Stratification Economics and Identity Economics. Cambridge Journal of Economics. Vol. 39, 1215–1229 doi:10.1093/cje/beu071.
Motesharrei et al. (2014). Human and nature dynamics (HANDY): Modelling inequality and use of resources in the collapse or sustainability of societies. Ecological Economics. Vol. 101. PP. 90-102.
Darity, W., Jr. (2009). Stratification economics: context versus culture and the reparations controversy. Kansas Law Review. Vol. 57. Pp. 795–811.

The author is a Research Scholar at Department of Economics, Central University of Kashmir, an Academic Counsellor, IGNOU STUDY CENTRE 1209,S.P. College, Srinagar and Editor in EPH – International Journal of Business and Management Science & Asian Journal of Managerial Science. She is an Ezine Articles Expert Author; IJRULA title awards, 2018 winner (Best Researcher, 2018) and can be reached at: qadribinish@gmail.com